From the book: The Story of PR Pather, the grand old man of Indian politics in South Africa - by Riashnee Pather

Chapter Two

For many the 1940's have been the most turbulent and eventful years in the history of Indian politics in South Africa. Even though the decade began with what can be categorised as some sort of unification of the Indian political organisations, this was not to imply that there was complete agreement on ideology and strategy. Furthermore differences and rifts that had been less prevalent in the past were brought to the surface and the whole character of Indian politics was to change completely. This chapter will closely examine these developments, looking especially at the circumstances surrounding the change in the political leadership of the Indian community. It is against this backdrop that the politics of PR Pather was to change as well. The relatively progressive stance he had adopted at one stage evolved to a much more conservative one, a development that was to lead to his eventual dissociation from the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the subsequent establishment with AI Kajee of the Natal Indian Organisation (NIO). One of the more interesting developments was the fact that PR's son was part of the new group on the political stage, whose ideas were completely different and opposed to that of the old guard as the Kajee - Pather leadership alliance was known. In regards to the family this chapter will look at the diverging political beliefs within it especially on terms of the broader political developments at the time.

1943 saw the amalgamation of the NIA - of which PR was a leading member-and the NIC under AI Kajee under the banner of the NIC. But this unification did hot succeed in silencing the rumblings that were becoming more and more noticeable. Within the NIC there emerged a group called the Nationalist Bloc. This Nationalist Bloc consisted of individuals such as Dr. GM Naicker and the trade unionist HA Naidoo. According to Surendra Bhana these members were often involved in the trade unions and the South African communist Party and many used to participate in the activities of the Liberal Study Group. 1 This development is mirrored almost exactly in the African National Congress when the members of the Youth League - who were also closely associated with many of the members of the Nationalist Bloc - began to make moves to oust the more conservative old guard leadership.

One of the more prominent members of this group was Dr. Goonam. In her autobiography she wrote about her return to South Africa after studying medicine in Scotland. It was at this time that Yusuf Dadoo and Monty Naicker also returned to South Africa after having studied abroad. These individuals initiated the Liberal Study Group and others like them who had become increasingly disillusioned with the Indian Congresses and more specifically their leadership. As Dr Goonam stated many of the participants were members of the NIC but were eagerly awaiting the chance to reform the organisation. 2

The important issue to deal with at this point is why there existed such disillusionment with the old guard leadership of the NIC. The whole dispute centred primarily on issues of land and this is what I intend to focus on now and especially on PR Pather's involvement in these events. Although issues of land had always been on the table, it reached a much more serious level in the late 1930's. The outbreak of World War Two dramatically increased the rate of industrialisation in South Africa. Durban was not exempt from this development. This, together with the fact that many white males had gone of to war resulted in the increased urbanisation of Africans and Indians. The period in question saw much agitation from the whites in Natal, especially in Durban over what they saw as Indian penetration of their areas. This was taken up by the Durban City Council, which attempted to pass several pieces of legislation to counter these developments. The rationale behind the attitude and actions of the whites were figures that indicated that Indians were moving into 'white areas' at an alarming rate. One such set of figures indicated that between 1930 and 1934 there had been 212 transfers of property from whites to Indians. 3

In 1938 AI Kajee representing a split NIC met with WT Walker, secretary of the Natal Municipal Association, and reached an informal agreement which was to become known as the Kajee Assurance. This agreement envisaged close co-operation between the Natal Municipal Association and the Natal Indian Congress with the NIC being involved in attempting to dissuade Indians taking up residence and purchasing land in certain areas. In Walker's correspondence with Kajee he expressed hope that he could obtain help "from the liberal minded Indians in the area affected". Calpin implicitly states that all AI Kajee could do was to try and convince potential buyers but actually had no real power to prevent them from going ahead anyway. However Kajee was extremely successful in his endeavour and on one occasion even left Cape Town by plane in order to prevent a sale going through. 4

In line with the Kajee Assurance the South African government following the advice of the Minister of the Interior, HG Lawrence set up a committee consisting of Natal Indian Association (NIA) members and Durban City Councillors. The NIA representatives included PR Pather, Albert Christopher and Sorabjee Rustomjee, while the Durban City council representatives included the Mayor and DG Shepstone. The committee known as the Lawrence Commission had its first meeting on 14 March 1940. The NIA view was that agreement and co-operation was of absolute necessity so as to avoid segregation legislation against Indians. The NIA leadership also believed that if they participated in the committee they could succeed in alerting the Durban City Council to the Indian need for housing and other civic amenities. 5

Between 1940 and 1943 there was much tension between the NIC and the NIA over the Lawrence Commission. The NIC led by AI Kajee severely criticised the NIA for participating in the Commission and aiding the government's segregation plans - A highly ironic judgement in my opinion. Nevertheless as I have stated earlier the two organisations amalgamated in July 1943 and AI Kajee and PR Pather who had spent most of their lives in opposition to each other found themselves together in positions of leadership employing their much-preferred common strategies of working within the white government system to achieve their ends 6.

By 1943 the South African central government was facing increasing pressure from the whites in Natal over Indian penetration into what they believed were their areas. The Prime Minister at the time. Smuts, despite preaching a global message of democracy and accord in regards to the ongoing war, crumbled under the weight of white opinion. In 1943 Smut's government passed the Pegging Act. The act was intended to restrict Indian occupation of land in municipal Durban until 31 March 1946. The legislation also ended any possibility of any property trading between whites and Indians. The latter were also disallowed from purchasing shares and debentures in companies that were in some way tied up to land and property that was restricted to Indians. 7

The passage of the pegging Act precipitated strong reactions from all quarters. Particularly loud voices emanated from India. Bagwandeen cites a number of interesting statements that were made on the subcontinent. The Times of India stated that the legislation 'stinks of racialism and runs counter to the general understanding that Indians in South Africa should be encouraged to adopt western standards of living." Sir Benegal Rama Rau, the former Indian high Commissioner to South Africa when he stated that Smuts should “rise above the exigencies of party politics and stand firmly by the principles he has so often and so eloquently proclaimed”, also echoed the widely held view on Smuts. Finally the Indian government in an official statement issued on 27 April 1943 in which it stated that it fully backed public opinion that the Pegging Act was 'repugnant, unnecessary and inopportune." 8

The Indian community in South Africa also protested vociferously. In Durban there were mass protest meetings and in June 1943 the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) held a conference in Johannesburg in an attempt to get the legislation repealed. When the report of this conference was handed to Smuts, he refused to accept or consider it on the grounds that that he felt that the Indians in South Africa would once again complain and appeal to the Indian government. In his response, SR Naidoo, one of the SAIC executive members once again echoed the sentiment that the Indians would very much prefer to be considered as full South African citizens. He stated, "It was in the hands of General Smuts to prevent any intervention from India in South African affairs and that was to make the Indians of this country its citizens by extending rights of citizenship." 9

Despite the appeals and protests the Pegging Act remained in place and the first person to be arrested and charged under the terms of the legislation was PR Pather himself. It was in July 1943 that PR was arrested and taken to court for occupying his own house, which was 232 Moore Road, Durban. 10

Mrs. Pather had purchased the property in question from the Dutch Reformed Church on 17 December 1942. By 13 March 1943 PR had paid enough so as to have full responsibility for the property and a relative occupied a section of the house before the Pegging Act came into operation on 22 March 1943. On 16 April 1943 the house was paid for in full and PR and his family moved in. In July PR was arrested and convicted according to the terms of the Pegging Act. On 29 October he came before Mr. H. Barren, the chief magistrate of Durban, who was supposed to pass sentence on PR. The sentencing however was postponed to November so as to allow PR to apply for a residential permit. However his application was turned down and in November he was ordered to pay five pounds or spend seven days in prison. PR was quoted as stating in court that "this law infringes the most elementary rights of an individual ... ", and that while "it may appease and pacify the racialists of Durban ... it shatters the last vestige of the dictates of natural justice and shakes the very foundation upon which the social contract of civilised society has been built". He also added in his court statement "... to dislodge a man from his own home is not the law of civilised society but that of the jungle".11

PR Pather actually refused to pay the fine and was prepared to serve his prescribed jail sentence. As PR was getting ready to be escorted to prison the clerk informed him that somebody had already paid the fine. This development did not please PR and he was reported as having stated:

"Whoever has paid the fine is a traitor to the Indian cause. I was fighting for a principle and was attempting to establish the rights of the Indian people in South Africa. I only trust that the person who paid that is not an Indian. If he is then, I have already described him. He joins the ranks of the world's quislings. I can not say anything further." 12

The question of who had paid the fine and why was the main talking point in Durban at the time as well as within the Indian community throughout South Africa. The Leader actually carried the number of the banknote but reported that the prosecutor was unwilling to divulge who had actually paid the fine. According to I C Meer the predominant opinion was that it was actually Senator Clarkson who had paid the fine. Clarkson, being Smut's Interior Minister and thereby responsible for the passage of the Pegging Act. Most people felt that he had paid the fine as a counter measure to the increasingly deafening local and international outcry against the legislation which had made it a criminal offence for a man to occupy his own home. 13 The question of who bailed PR out in 1944 remains unresolved up until today, with even his family still in the dark. Once again lack of evidence prevents me from drawing to any set conclusion.

After the fine had been paid PR still refused to vacate his home in Moore Road and he was arrested and convicted once more and ordered to pay a fine of twenty pounds or spend a month in prison. Furthermore the sentence included a two months suspended sentence if he vacated the property by 30 June 1944. Again PR was geared to serve his prison sentence but someone anonymously paid his fine. 14

An interesting point that emerges from this whole account is the fact that the personal sphere of PR's life became a very political one. The existing distinctions between the private and public spheres are clearly seen to have collapsed. The home became the sight of political resistance and conflict. And with the newspapers covering the story and subsequently with the affair becoming the talking point all over, the private sphere of the home also became a very public one. It is also worth noting that the form of protest registered by PR was to continue through the following decades especially with the forced removals that were to occur.

It was at this time that the SAIC which was led by the conservative element attempted to negotiate with Prime Minister Smuts in an attempt to reach some sort of agreement on the land and property issues. On 29 March 1944 the SAIC presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister in which they appealed that the Pegging Act be repealed. What they proposed was the creation of a Committee comprising of two Indians and two whites and a chairman who would have to a legal expert and have the ability to issue licences to Indians to reside in those areas where the vast majority of residents were whites. It was proposed that this committee would deal with the issue of segregation rather than have it written it into the law books. This proposal of voluntary segregation by the Indian old guard leadership came as a huge shock. According to I C Meer it suggested that Indians would accept residential segregation as along as their trading areas were not affected. Meer adds that to Smuts this was a big concession since his friend. Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India was bringing an increasing amount of pressure to bear on him. 15

Leading on from this SAIC initiative. Smuts, his Interior Minister, the Administrator of Natal met with seven representatives of the NIC, which included AI Kajee, PR Pather and SR Naidoo. This meeting took place on 18 April 1944 and out of it emerged the notorious Pretoria Agreement. The Agreement contained the possibility of segregated homes and the proposal for the ratification of the Committee. The Agreement was to be attacked from all directions and AI Kajee in particular, as the leading promoter of the Agreement was the main target of all the criticisms. 16 Besides receiving scathing attacks from within the Indian community, which I shall return to later, the Durban City Council and the Natal Municipal Association attacked the Pretoria Agreement. These groups had their own ideas and plans regarding racial segregation and their views on Indian penetration were contrary to what was expressed in the Pretoria Agreement. Furthermore the authorities in Durban favoured a board consisting of whites only and did not relish the prospect of any co-operation with any other group. According to Bhana Kajee then appeared before the Natal Provincial Council and was in fact the first non-white person to address them. 17

Kajee protested the fact that the Natal authorities were radically altering the terms of the Pretoria Agreement. One of the points of contention was that whereas the Agreement had only proposed residential segregation and which was to apply only to Durban, the suggested Natal legislation would restrict Indian's right to purchase land for business and agricultural purposes throughout the whole province. Furthermore while the Pretoria Agreement placed the responsibility of drafting of legislation firmly with the central government, the proposed plan in Natal was to have the Provincial government assume this responsibility. In the conclusion to his speech AI Kajee stated,

The fundamental issue before the Provincial Council today can be described in a single question. Does the European dominant group really want to solve racial strife? So long as the European section insists upon the economic and social inferiority of the Indian community, so long will there be racial strife; so long as the European community insists that the Indian shall have no representation on bodies which determine the destiny of Indians, so long will there be racial strife; so long as the Indians are depressed and segregated by statutes legally imposed by the dominant group, so long will there be racial strife.18

During the period of these negotiations over the Pretoria Agreement PR Pather voluntarily vacated his home in Moore Road, in a move characterised by Dowlat Bagwandeen as an immense personal sacrifice in order to ensure a beneficial conclusion. However when it soon became apparent that the Pretoria Agreement was doomed to failure PR moved back into his home and on 2 November 1944 was arrested once and on this occasion imprisoned. He is quoted as having stated in court, " I am prepared to serve the two months imprisonment in the interests of my community". A mass meeting was held on 3 November 1944 to protest PR's arrest. 19 Eventually however Mrs. Pather was evicted from her home in Moore Road while PR was in prison. This action also prompted much outrage and a subsequent mass protest meeting was held at the Avalon theatre in Durban. The Advocate JW Godfrey who presided over the meeting summed up the common sentiment of the occasion when he stated that, "We as Indians are not going to tolerate this action against us and even less against an Indian woman." 20 Unfortunately lack of adequate sources have prevented me from getting any ideas about the views, thoughts and actions of Mrs. Pather. But once again the collapse of distinctions between the personal, public and political spheres is clearly visible.

Up to this point I have more or less concentrated on the ideas and the actions of the old guard leadership of the Indian Congresses. However at this point I wish to return to my discussion of the Nationalist Bloc within the NIC. The Nationalist Bloc strongly criticised the manner in which the NIC leadership had been dealing with government legislation and other issues. As a counter measure to the Pretoria Agreement the members of the Liberal Study Group formed the Anti-Segregation Council. It was the explicit aim of this group to oust the old guard NIC leadership and take over themselves. 21

The divisions within the NIC were not solely based on land issues and segregation. Most of the members of the Nationalist Bloc felt that it would be more productive to ally themselves with other black organisations and groups instead of just pursuing the cause of Indians in the conventional accommodating and compromising manner. It was through the Non-European United Front (NEUF) that these individuals hoped to achieve their goals. 22

An interesting development that is definitely worth discussing here is one that occurred within the Pather family during the period in question that is the early 1940's. PR Pather's eldest son Masla was part of the first group of six Indian medical doctors to graduate locally. He graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand. 23 Masla, while studying at Wits became more and more politically active and actually moved in a very opposite direction politically, to that of his father. He became very active in the South African Communist Party and when interviewed about this he answered that he believed this to be "the logic of his life". Even though he attributes some of his influences to those left wing students at University he also believes that living in Vrededorp where he witnessed first hand people living around the poverty line, mist of whom were victims of the government's relocation plans, influenced and moved him towards the path he was to eventually follow. 24

The fact that Masla and PR found themselves completely opposed political camps was a widely known fact and the local papers used every opportunity they could to discuss it; especially since it was a well known fact that PR had an immense dislike of communist ideology. As the faqir (the pre-eminent columnist in The Leader at the time) one wrote, "His (Masla's) father does not like the sight of reds- I am putting it fairly mildly - but his son is a red." 25 However despite this story having all the ingredients for a huge family feud, it never led to any family ill feeling between father and son. In fact Masla stated that his father was just extremely glad that his son was an independent thinker. An interesting and amusing incident that once occurred was that PR at a public meeting was heckled by someone who commented about his son being a communist. PR's retort was that there was actually more freedom in his house than there was in Russia. 26 Once more these developments illustrate the fact that the private sphere of PR's family has collapsed into a more public one. And it is remarkably interesting how a conflict, which occupied the central stage of global politics, could play itself out within the context of a family.

The lack of any agreement on the elections resulted in the stipulated date being changed three times, decisions pre-empted by the old guard leadership. Finally the Council represented by Dr. GM Naicker, Dr. BT Chetty and AKM Docrat sought assistance from attorneys and demanded that elections be held sometime soon and according to the guidelines specified by the constitution of the NIC. Their demands were backed up by the threat of court action. When the NIC leadership still did not comply the case was taken to the Supreme Court and on 15 August 1945 the NIC was ordered to hold elections before 30 September 1945. 30 Finally elections were scheduled for 21 October 1945 but a week before that the whole NIC leadership resigned and on the scheduled election date a mass meeting was held at Curries Fountain Durban and the new leadership of the NIC was ushered in, headed by Dr. GM Naicker who held that position until 1961. At that meeting women were not allowed to vote because the NIC constitution did not permit it, but at the first executive meeting after the elections that rule was amended at the behest of Dr. Goonam and others. 31

What I wish to draw out in this chapter is the extremely fluid nature of Indian politics and the dangers involved in attempting to construct any hard and fast categories to place the actors involved. At the turn of the decade PR was occupying a relatively leftist position in Indian politics but this was to change considerably as the decade progressed. Though despite this political evolution he still occupied an ambiguous position. All the literature that I have consulted emphasis the point that PR along with AI Kajee were willing to protest and campaign for reform only within the white power structure but PR especially at the time of his arrest demonstrated that this was not always the case. He was defiant and clung strongly to the principles that he believed in.

The 1940's represent an extremely vibrant and interesting period in the history of Indian politics of Natal. It was a time when the face of this political scene was to change completely. Yet despite these divisions and the various factions in opposition to one another there was still discernible, a strong and deep commitment to the cause. And what became more and more clearly apparent, both in the Pather family and on the broader political scene were that political differences had no bearing on personal relations and friendships. The degree of tolerance in the family certainly attests to the power and tenacity of family responsibility and mutual dependence and the fact that these concepts enabled the family to overcome or absorb great political schisms. This notion of the capacity to deal with generational conflict and difference seems the essence of the maintenance of the extended family. This is illustrated in the 1960's when PR and his wife kept Masla's children with them in Durban. But political tolerance extended beyond the family as well. This is typified in a statement made by Dr. Goonam when she once said of PR Pather, "We were at each other's throats on the political platform but afterwards we were the best of friends." 32

1 Surendra Bhana. Gandhi 's Legacy. The Natal Indian Congress. 1894-1994. p 41. Also see Pauline Podbrey. White Girl in Search of The Party. [Pietermatizburg: Hadeda Books, 1993]

2 Dr. K. Goonam. Coolie Doctor. [Durban: Madiba Publishers, 1991], p 99

3 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism. The Struggle for Land and Housing of the Indian People of Natal. 1940-1946. [Durban: Madiba Publishers, 1991], p 26 – 27

4 C.H. Calpin. AI Kajee. His Work for the South African Indian Community, p 54 - 55

5 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism, p 28 – 29

6 Surendra Bhana. Gandhi 's Legacy. The Natal Indian Congress. 1894-1994. p 47

7 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism, p 94 – 95

8 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism, p 95

9 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism, p 97

10 Interview with Ambiga Pather. 25 September 1998. Durban

11 Bagwandeen. A People on Trial-For Breaching Racism, p 103 and The Leader.19 November 1993

12 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism, p 101 -102

13 The Leader. 21 January 1994

14 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial — For Breaching Racism, p 102

15 The Leader. 1 April 1944

16 The Leader. 1 April 1944

17 Surendra Bhana. Gandhi 's Legacy. The Natal Indian Congress. 1894-1994. p 51

18 C.H. Calpin. AI Kajee. His Work for the South African Indian Community, p 144 - 146

19 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism, p 102

20 The Leader. 9 December 1994

21 Dr. K. Goonam. Coolie Doctor, p 101

22 Surendra Bhana. Gandhi 's Legacy. The Natal Indian Congress. 1894-1994. p 42

23 The Leader. 8 December 1995

24 Interview with Masla Pather. 17 November. Westville

25 The Leader. 8 December 1995

30 Dowlat Bagwandeen. A People on Trial - For Breaching Racism, p 144, Dr. K. Goonam. Coolie Doctor. P101

31 Dr. K. Goonam. Coolie Doctor, p 101

32 The Graphic. 30 January 1970